Meanwhile, over on Minecraft The Hunger Games are running 24/7

A few weeks back, my neighbour’s 8 year old son spent almost over an hour carefully spelling out ‘Minecraft’ in foot and half high multi-coloured letters on the sidewalk in front of his house and mine. When I asked him why he liked the game, he said: ‘It’s entertaining…. And it’s really good for spatial stuff and building things.’ His eyes lit up and he started describing all the things he’d built, the CN Tower, a castle, and various objects from volcanos to dynamite. Later this week he’s going to show me what he’s made and I can’t wait.

Minecraft is huge – an online game sandbox that allows anyone to build pretty much anything, developed by Markus ‘Notch’ Persson. Not only was Notch awarded the BAFTA Special Award in March 2012 for ‘significant contribution to a sector,’ Minecraft is now the best selling XBox Live Arcade game ever, with over 2 million games sold.  So when a friend’s 14 year old son, Alex, told me he spent a ton of time playing in online versions of The Hunger Games built in Minecraft, I ever curious, immediately asked if he would show me. As he played through a number of games, he filled me in on the rules – it’s an open game world, any one can play, games usually have 8 players, though there are lots of variations.

You log in, choose an active game in the game world antechamber or lobby & then wait for a unanimous vote for the game to begin. During the interim, players can chat, form alliances & move around the environment. When it does start, following the rules of Suzanne Collin’s imagined game, you have to wait for the countdown, make a mad dash for the treasure pile to score weapons, armor, and consumables to maintain your health. Some game mods like Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Minecraft 1.2.5  foreground details such as how ‘ Mocking-jay pins can be used to ally with characters who do not attack you. such as Peeta, or Katniss’ and the attributes of weapons:

  • The Spear (throwable)
  • The Knife (stackable and throwable)
  • Katniss’s Bow (same as normal bow)
  • Night-lock (poisons and blinds you)
  • Night-lock Sapling
  • Cornucopia block (gold and silver
  • It introduces mutts!
  • Cornucopia Pack (found in cornocopia, right click to obtain item)
  • sponsor package (given randomly)
  • And the Mocking-jay pin

Other games outline a rigorous protocol to stay faithful to the original novels: ‘ We will be following the rules laid out in the book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins as closely as we can manage. Players will start in a lobby area; each player will enter a room, which will then be closed around them. The players will then be teleported to the arena, as soon as they arrive at the arena, the game begins. There will be chests of supplies nearby. Take whatever action you wish to ensure victory, be that fighting for the initial supplies or making a run for it and making your own gear. There are also a few chests with useful gear in them, but they are hidden throughout the level….’ <>


If you know the game environment already so you know where the treasure caches are, you might choose to race to find the hidden caches so you can load up your inventory to protect yourself and begin slaying those less fortunate. Some games will have preset time restrictions (2 minutes? more? less?) before the killing can begin.

Any one can create a Hunger Game, and my guide told me about the epic game launched spring 2012, Minecraft Hunger Games ‘Free for All,’ which was built to host 150 players, with seriously extensive environments, game play, and many many hidden caches of weapons and supplies. The games I watched Alex play tended to be short, as he failed to score weapons in all but one of his games so he spent much of his game time racing away from others, repeating ‘I’m so dead, I’m so dead, I’m gonna die…’ When he did find a sword, the tables immediately flipped and he took off in pursuit of other players to kill them before he was spotted. Now, as he played he had the advantage of a tracking mod (paid for) which showed him where all of the other players were in the game world. As I watched, he confirmed that the players he was pursuing were blissfully unaware of his stalking until he killed them, unless of course, they had the same game mod.

And herein lies a beautiful lesson in the logic of fan adaptation. Where Collin’s novels are complex and layered in their politics and social critique, filled with ambivalences re. characters and the world depicted and an underlying rejection of contemporary American society, fans have taken the core of the action – kill/be killed within a specific set of rules & environment – and invested enormous amounts of time and creativity in remodelling Collin’s arena as a first-person shooter game.

Yet, if the games strip the novels down to a super simple narrative form, this phenomenon exists because of the commitment of individual modders spending hours building games to surprise and amaze others. What is really remarkable is that this explosion of creativity is possible because of the supportive stance the indie game developers Mojang (team of 2!) have taken. In a Gamasutra interview from January 2012, now lead developer Jens “Jeb” Bergensten talked at length about Minecraft’s indie process: ‘..we are such a small team that we can’t compete with the rest of the world with content. So, there’s a change in priorities, that we really need to open up the game for other developers to add mods, and share mods, and run servers more easily. So, what I mean is I will work less on features, and more on the engine part of the game.’

Numerous players are posting their game videos on YouTube, though again Alex informed me you had to buy the camera mod to record player games. These basic machinima videos – unscripted, unedited – are hysterical in their own way, particularly as you often find the disjunction between the first person pov negotiating through the virtual world with occasional, rapid fight sequences and then the parallel audio of individual players narrating their game play experience.

Not surprisingly, other properties have been rebuilt in Minecraft, most notably perhaps, Zelda Adventure, a 10 hour remake of The Legend of Zelda, which still appears to be playable online. Meaning that Nintendo, who have been ferociously guarded of their IP in the past, have chose to let this game continue. Lionsgate has resisted pushing the catch phrase ‘Let the games begin,’ and the extensive social media campaign deliberately avoids letting fans actually play the games in all aspects of their social media campaign. With 2 novels still to adapt and 3 films projected ahead, fans have gleefully bypassed  studio to play directly in The Hunger Games and have taken control of their own engagement. Given the rate of game modding underway, who knows what fans and modders will have created by the time the next film is released? May the (r)evolution of fan generated content continue…

some works cited – for a full list of YouTube links – contact me:

Gamasutra ‘Talking the Future of Minecraft’

Hunger Games Mod for Minecraft

Positron Servers Hunger Games

Minecraft Hunger Games Server – YouTube

Minecraft Hunger Games Survival Captain Sparkles Part 2 – YouTube

MC Survival Games Servers – Ep3  – YouTube

Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Showcase (And Gameplay) (Part 1)  – YouTube

Zelda Adventure –  – YouTube

‘Transmedia Engagement: Participatory Culture to Activism’ – The Hunger Games & Metrics of Success

The following is a talk I gave June 1 in Toronto which sprang from my ongoing interest in The Hunger Games as a transmedia campaign. I wrote an earlier blog post, ‘Why The Hunger Games is Not Harry Potter, and Why You Should Care,’ in response to finishing the novels, which were far more disturbing than I had expected. Further mulling on Geoffrey Long’s How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism and Jeff Gomez & Fabian Niciezo’s “6 Reasons Why ‘the Avengers’ is Crushing it at the Box Office” resulted in this case study on ‘Transmedia Engagement: Participatory Culture to Activism.’ Your thoughts are welcome!

[slideshare id=13211730&doc=transmediaengagement-participatoryculturetoactivism-120605134233-phpapp01]

See on

The Colbert Report: The Most Cunning ARG You’ve Never Heard Of

I’ve been thinking about this for months, years in fact, watching The Colbert Report. Launched on October 17, 2005, satirist Stephen Colbert’s portrayal of Stephen Colbert, right-wing pundit (an homage to Bill O’Reilly), and know-it-all Wikipedia editing expert, is so seamless that the ‘performance’ of his faux character is almost forgotten. Search him online (forget Wikipedia today folks!) and it is virtually impossible to find interviews with the ‘real’ Colbert. Think back to his appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner 2006, billed as a Special Edition of The Colbert Report, where he delivered a masterpiece parody of the George Bush era and what he termed the “No Fact Zone.” Now, with his ongoing shaming of the Federal Election Committee (FEC) and the absurdities or criminalities of Super PACs in the US electoral process, he’s done a flurry of interviews this past week, again in character, with George Stephanopoulos and Ted Koppel. In each of these interviews, the extremism of his character is marked by some absurd proposal or claim that foregrounds the artifice of his performance. Watch his exchange with Stephanopoulos here:….

Now if you’ve never thought about The Colbert Report as a transmedia ARG, pause for a moment. What Colbert has done is promote a fictional character with a subversive agenda across multiple platforms: the TV show, multiple websites (,, What he’s doing definitely stretches the model of the ARG (hey! wait! Is there a single model?). But it’s definitely transmedia & cross-platform and he’s had complete buy-in from his audience:  he’s led an activist rally in the 2010 March to Keep Fear Alive (see its companion website,, and successfully solicited who knows how much $ through the contributions to his Super PAC that, as he repeatedly points out, he will not have to report on legally for an undetermined period of time. Yet this performance is only now being commented on widely as a performance: ABC news just today ran an article on Who is the Real Stephen Colbert? 

Colbert’s control of his performance and the media’s responses to him has been absolute and to get a sense of how he has created a storyworld in which his character exists as unchallenged, watch his September 2011 interview with Al Gore, who does the unthinkable on live TV by commenting on ‘your character.’ Colbert is clearly aghast and in character, crushes Gore with “finger quotes.” Or watch Colbert’s interview with Frank LuntzOctober 2011 on how to set up his Super PAC focus group and sell the message that Corporations are People Too. Here, Colbert slips into his highly racist Chinese character, Ching Chong Ding Dong, and says: “I’m not responsible for anything my character says.” This moment is genius as it reveals the strategy underlying Colbert’s parodic persona. That he is now raising serious debate in the US as to the validity of Super PACs, generating numerous articles and news reports is an indirect homage to the persuasiveness of his performance over time.

Colbert’s application and appearance before the FEC was a fascinating moment in his ongoing ‘alternate reality performance.’ One, for Colbert, he was surprisingly monosyllabicand undemonstrative, whereas outside the hearing, he was emphatically the satiric pundit. That moment in the hearing however, raised the question of who exactly speaking before the Commission. As, if it was the character, then the legality & authority of the FEC were being mocked & challenged – technically a dicey move – yet watch him immediately after speaking outside to the press. Colbert played that moment ambiguously because he had to, but he also didn’t commit or reveal himself as the real Stephen Colbert.

And, given the specifics of the ruling as to what Viacom and Colbert’s Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, could and could not do, Colbert has neatly circumvented the restrictions on broadcasting outside of his show or network by allowing the net to do the job for him as his Super PAC negative campaign ads can be watched on multiple sites, including YouTube, and as embedded content in multiple news reports (Take that! SOPA!). If you haven’t seen them, catch the latest Super PAC commercials here: Mitt the Ripper and Vote for Herman Cain

Colbert has used his comedic position to introduce new words to the lexicon, ‘truthiness,’ ‘anchor baby,’ and now it’s starting to look like his relentless and inventive challenge to the Super PAC might actually galvanize change. If he’s successful, I can’t wait to see what he tackles next.

You can read the Federal Election Committee’s Advisory Opinion from June 30, 2011 here:

And, if you haven’t been following this, here’s a great recap by Sarah Mimms:

“Federal Election Committee rules on Colbert’s Super PAC application”

by Sarah Mimms, June 30 2011

“In filing his initial request for an advisory opinion, Colbert sought to take advantage of an exemption traditionally used to allow media outlets to report and comment on campaigns and endorse candidates without having their work considered “in-kind” political contributions, triggering filing and disclosure requirements with the Federal Election Commission.

The request came down to one essential issue: whether Viacom can legally donate production costs, airtime and use of Colbert’s staff to create ads for the so-called super PAC, to be played both on “The Colbert Report” and as paid advertisements other networks and shows.

The commission said no, ruling that once ads created using Viacom resources were broadcast on other networks, Viacom would have to report them as political contributions.”

[Originally posted on my January 18, 2012 – I believe in multiple archives]

Why The Hunger Games is not Harry Potter, & Why We Should Care

Warning: Spoilers – lots & lots of Spoilers from the Trilogy. Don’t read if you don’t want to know

Have you read The Hunger Games? the full series? been on the Facebook Capitol PN or District pages lately? Dipped into the Twitter feed #LookYourBest?

If you have, you may have noticed something really odd. If you’ve read the first book (now in theaters near you & soon to be released in IMAX!), then you know that Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be a tribute to save her sister, Prim, from certain death.

In the first novel, we see the poverty of District 12, learn about the uprising of the 12 Districts against the Capitol, the ensuing annihilation of District 13, the brutal subjugation of the remaining 12 Districts and the founding of the Hunger Games as a reminder of the destruction that rebellion & civil war lead to.


In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ story exemplifies what I have come to see as the moral core of children’s literature, which I have taught roughly twice a year for 10 years now. The power & the truth of children’s lit lies in the valuing of a child’s point of view, which in the ‘real’ world, we adults view as immature, naive, ignorant, etc etc, in contrast to the more mature, nuanced & complex understanding adults have as a result of experience, knowledge, and wisdom, as the result of more time spent on earth.

The moral core of good children’s lit is the absolute assertion of the value of the individual relationship against arguments of sacrificing one or many for the greater good. Children refuse to treat others as objects, affirming instead subject to subject relationships. You see this in Huckleberry Finn, where Huck cannot betray the immediacy of his friendship with Jim, even though he believes helping a runaway slave is wrong & will land him in hell. And in Twain’s extended critique of Tom Sawyer’s cruel victimization of Jim in the final section, when Tom directs a prolonged, unnecessary prison escape, despite knowing that Jim is now free.

It’s there in The Golden Compass where Lyra always commits to helping those who are being victimized, and she consistently positions herself against the adults in power who kill the weak for the greater good: the children at Bolvangar, Roger… Philip Pullman makes this contrast explicit in Mrs. Coulter’s and Lord Asriel’s complete lack of empathy for those they torture & kill respectively.

This moral core is fundamental to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as Harry, Hermione, Ron & Dumbledore’s Army consistently choose to fight Voldemort’s totalitarian regime. And most importantly, what Rowling makes absolutely clear is that her characters assert their love for one another, and that those bonds exist as an aspect of identity and community that are worth self-sacrifice, as Harry shows us in the final book, but never the sacrifice of others as symbolic, token or necessary substitutes.  In the film version of the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore says to Harry, “Just like your mother, you’re unfailingly kind. A trait people never fail to undervalue, I’m afraid.” Throughout the series and across generations, Rowling repeatedly sets kindness against cruelty, and in the final battle, we see the impact of those forces on different character arcs (Neville, Luna).

So, if you’ve only read The Hunger Games, the first novel seems to hew closely to this model. The Hunger Games are an annual sacrifice of two youths for the greater good, Katniss’ volunteering for her sister is a self-sacrifice that saves her sister from experiencing a horrible death played out as spectacle for the entertainment of the Capitol and which the Districts are obligated to witness.


And here’s where the novel starts to become tricky – Katniss’ preparation for the Games by her team of stylists is both glamourous and an enactment of the power of the state on the body of the subjugated. As Collins repeatedly tells us, Tributes are often sent into the Opening Ceremonies in stylized nakedness and as Katniss is waxed and groomed, she is grateful that her team stops short of radical body modification. The novel tenuously balances Katniss’ resistant pov on her transformation into the most beautiful girl at the Games and the seductiveness of luxury that is the central focus of the Twitter hashtag, #LookYourBest and the messaging of the Facebook Capitol and District pages.

Here’s where the disjunction between the novel(s), the marketing, and the reception start to get really strange. If you’ve read the Trilogy, then you know SPOILER! that Katniss takes on the role of figurehead leader of the revolution of the Districts against the Capitol, that she is manipulated by the leader of District 13 (not dead after all), by Abernathy, by Cinna, that Prim is killed in an unconscionable attack on the children of the Capitol, and that Karniss becomes a morphling (morphine) addict who is repeatedly being medicalized against her will, spending what seem to be numerous stretches in opiate induced unconsciousness.


That Lionsgate has made identification with the Capitol and the vacuous, privileged, style & spectacle obsessed residents of the Capitol the focal point for fans of the series is an unbelievable misstep in terms of what the series depicts as the evil at the heart of what America has become. So if you’ve read the series, images such as these are weighted with the problematic identifications we are asked to make – to President Snow, to the Capitol inhabitants who enjoy watching youth being maimed & destroyed.

In the screen shot below from The Capitol Facebook Page, the invitation to wear a white rose to ‘honor President Snow’ is distinctly problematic, given the sadistic inventiveness of the torture enacted in the Games & the violence that follows the uprisings.


Collins also makes clear that Katniss’ final choice [SPOILERS!] of killing President Coin (no accidental name here) is an act to protect the future, where the shooting of President Snow would have avenged the past. This is explicit in the contrast between Katniss and her best friend/erstwhile boyfriend, Gale, who chooses a different path, designing death traps that intentionally sacrifice the innocent for the greater good. The fact that she and he can never know for sure if his strategem killed Prim and the hundreds of Capitol children she had rushed to help is a deciding factor in Katniss (finally) choosing Peeta (which we don’t see in the novel).

What is most difficult about the series & where it is distinctly NOT Harry Potter, is that Katniss’ story, told in first-person, is the story of a teenager suffering acutely from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder without relief. The first-person voice is strategic as it means that Katniss is initially ignorant of how she is being manipulated by both sides, President Snow & District 13 leader, Coin. What it means though is that we experience Katniss’ world & story from within an extremely traumatized psyche. Unlike Rowling’s series, Katniss has no community, no network of friends, and bluntly, there is no joy in the series, which the Harry Potter series has in abundance with the affirmation of friendships and love, and the delight and wonder of the magical world. In contrast, Katniss is repeatedly betrayed by those she trusts, trauma is inflicted on her repeatedly, in the first games, then the 75th Games, where all surviving Victors compete against each other. Finnick & Annie’s wedding in The Mockingjay is a brief moment of relief and yet, Katniss is superficially engaged and Collins then kills Finnick.


Why then is this a series that speaks to its audience now?? It’s not just the parallels between the novel’s dystopic vision of a future America and the polarization and activism that has sprung up around the Occupy movement and its language of the 1% and 99%. And to be frank, this critique seems to be completely missing from the engagement Lionsgate invites and the role-playing fans engage in dressing up as Effie or playing tributes on the various online games.


What no one to my knowledge has flagged are the parallels between Katniss’ acute experience of PTSD (one could add Peeta, Haymitch, & all the other victors here, with the nightmares, the constant fear of attack), the descriptions of her physically traumatized body with the extensive burn scarring and the parallels to the phenomenon of PTSD in American military personnel returning from Iraq & Afghanistan. Here too, Peeta’s loss of a leg resonates, even though he has been fitted with a high-tech prosthesis. As a Canadian, not living in a country militarized to the degree that the US is now, I have to ask if the dystopic vision of The Hunger Games series is a mediation of what seems from across the border to be an awareness of the challenge of reintegrating the severely traumatized veterans of the War on Terror.

Nicholas Kristoff has reported that for every American soldier’s death in Afghanistan and Iraq, 25 military veterans commit suicide (TWENTY-FIVE), one every 80 minutes. That is an astonishing, devastating phenomenon. In this context, I cannot but read The Hunger Games series as a reflection on and mediation of the scarred bodies and psyches of those who return who, like Katniss or Haymitch, are barely able to connect back to an everyday life of normalicy. Collins gives us a snapshot of the future, Katniss & Peeta in the future with children, yet Katniss is clearly still scarred, not surprisingly.

So when my 13 year old daughter tells me that she loves The Hunger Games and that on reading The Mockingjay for the second time that she started crying on the first page & didn’t stop until the end, I’m not surprised. The degree of violence, victimization and brutalization surpasses that of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Kimberley Pierce’s Stop Loss, or even Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (yup, I’m going that far). The sadism enacted in the series  matches or surpasses the details of Charles Taylor’s regime that have hit the news this week.

There may be some parallels between Collins’ series and Rowling’s, but they are absolutely not the same in tone or experience. It might be time to start asking why this series resonates now, what fans are responding to, and what is actually being critiqued in the novels. Having read the series, how Lionsgate is going to adapt the following two novels for a PG-13 audience is beyond me as the current marketing of the film through its ARG extensions firmly positions the audience in the role of those who oppress and torture. Good luck, Lionsgate.

Nicholas Kristoff’s article here:

Simple, Elegant Genius: The BBC’s Transmedia Sherlock Holmes

 Here’s my favourite recent integrated transmedia production. I put this one together for a talk for the Transmédia Journées Festival in Montreal and I’m still a little OCD about following the Sherlock Twitter streams. And heads up! there are small spoilers here though I’ve avoided the biggies. If you don’t want to know anything, DON’T READ!

What I really like about the BBC’s approach to creating transmedia content for Sherlock was that the show’s producers kept everything super simple and everything they created was worked back into the show as important story points. The efficacy, unity and coherence across platforms is likely helped by the fact that Steven Moffat is co-creator, an executive producer, and co-writer, with Mark Gatiss.

Having chosen to make the Sherlock series a contemporary reworking of Conan Doyle’s original stories, it makes perfect sense that the characters blog, and that they’re active, no – hyper-active on Twitter. This decision then supports all kinds of cross-referencing between the blogs and blog content during the episodes.

That Watson blogs is mentioned in the first episode of Season One, when Sherlock states that he looked at it before meeting with Watson. Then as the episodes progress, Watson posts his accounts of Holmes’ cases through his blog, cross-linking to Holmes’ blog, The Science of Deduction and Holmes’ cross-links back, referring those who are interested in his cases to read Watson’s posts.

Watson’s blog also pushes fans quite directly to help solve the cryptic puzzles Holmes is posting on his site:

The blog hosts further exchanges between Watson and Holmes, reinforcing their characterrs, as in this exchange after Watson posts his first case study, A Study in Pink:

Moffat and Gatiss also use Watson’s blog to return to key moments within the TV episodes, as in the final confrontation with Moriarty in The Great Game, where the reader re-experiences the moment in which Watson is very close to death in multiple ways from his pov.

Season 2 then ramps up the integration of Watson’s digital life into the show and during episodes we see him writing his blog,

Holmes irritated at the sky-rocketing number of views Watson’s blog is getting,

and headlines on Holmes’ becoming a “Net Phenomenon” because of the attention Watson’s blog and case studies are generating.

Holmes posts key documents onto his blog, The Science of Deduction, that connect back significantly to mysteries in given episodes. (I’m not going to spoil it! You will find it 🙂

The production then nicely breaks the fourth wall when Watson’s blog is then ‘hacked’ and a video filmed by someone breaking into their apartment is posted via his blog (again, I’m not giving this one away).

And ditto with the inclusion of a BBC video reporting on the climactic ending of Season Two, again, cross-posted to Watson’s blog,

And as Season Two ends with the mystery of Holmes’ fate and character, and Watson’s declaration that ‘I’ll always believe in him,’ fans across the globe take up the invitation and begin posting affirmations of their faith as well.imageimageimage



This is a smattering of the transmedia content developed for and generated by the BBC’s Sherlock. What’s really fab is that you can see how the show’s producers have started a movement that lives on after the end of Season Two, in a community that continues to engage with and create content around the show, waiting for Season Three. Genius.

Part Two will dip into other social media content developed around the show and there is a lot of it!